Still Gimmicky in the US, F&B + Brand Collaborations Gain Acceptance in China

    Food & beverage and brand collaborations, which have been gaining popularity internationally, are taking off in China in a wide array of formats.
    Food & beverage and brand collaborations, which have been gaining popularity internationally, are taking off in China in a wide array of formats. Photo: Steven Metzer
      Published   in Retail

    Through our monthly Best of Brand Collaborations series, we’ve become accustomed to seeing everyone from tech startups and museums to beauty brands and even state-run newspapers create limited-edition products for the China market, designed to generate buzz and ultimately reach new audiences.

    But while some of these collaborations (thinking here of Pepsi x People’s Daily or insect repellent brand Liushen x KFC here) are very China-specific, others are starting to expand globally as more companies adopt content-commerce strategies to encourage consumer spending in a Covid-hit year that is keeping shoppers indoors and tightening purse-strings.

    One of the content-commerce segments that is starting to seep internationally is food and beverage (Famp;B) and brand collaborations, which we’ve seen in China in a wide array of formats—from a limited-edition bubble-tea themed Adidas x Hey Tea sneaker to a chicken takeaway bucket-themed Karl Lagerfeld x KFC purse and a set of National Gallery x Ramen Talk gift boxes.

    In China, Famp;B and brand collaborations tend to go a step beyond the obvious or completely random and are often fairly well thought-out. For example, Adidas and Hey Tea may have nothing to do with one another at first glance, but when you consider how popular Hey Tea’s “Succulent Grape” beverage is in China, its trademark purple hue starts to make sense as a base for a sneaker colorway.

    The concept has started to catch on in Western countries, particularly in the fast-food and snack sectors, led by—once again—KFC, by way of collaborations like the KFC x Crocs slip-ons it debuted at the beginning of the year. But other brands, too, have sought to attract online buzz via gimmicky collaborations, from a 20,000 Cheetos-themed ring and earring set in 2016 to a more recent line of clothing and accessories created by American stuffing brand Stove Top just in time for Thanksgiving.

    Recent years have seen companies like Oreo, Red Lobster, and Taco Bell release branded pajamas and sweaters in time for the holidays, while Popeye’s went ahead and gave people the chance to buy actual employee uniforms. But rather than being branded collaborations, these are essentially extensions of merchandise already being sold on company websites.

    In China, branded collaborations are big business and a serious way for companies to reach new audiences while fostering associations that can help drive business from top-tier to lower-tier cities at an often affordable price-point. This is particularly true for beauty brands like Fenty Beauty, Clarins, L’Oréal, and Clinique, all of which have launched collaborations with the aforementioned Hey Tea, or digitally savvy, fast-growing C-beauty brand Perfect Diary, which collaborated with Oreo this past spring.

    The question now is whether we will start to see Famp;B and brand collaborations both in China and globally start to trend more high-end in the year to come. Premium brands and luxury houses alike have seen global revenue plummet in 2020, and many are in need of some much-needed buzz. This type of collaboration could be an avenue, if—as in China—it is done in a slightly less gimmicky way that might look indiscriminate but actually has serious, long-tail revenue generation potential baked in.

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